Transforming BI with SAP and the University of Edinburgh

The University of Edinburgh has embarked on its second journey with SAP after a somewhat bumpy start to the partnership. During the initial partnership in 2013, things did not go to plan as problems regarding a licensing model arose. Taking on a license model for the University’s business objects turned out to be hugely problematic, bringing massive overheads to manage. In order to resolve the licensing issue the University of Edinburgh had to set up a help desk to assign and remove the licenses the institution was made to use.

However, turning over a new leaf the University and SAP have begun working together once again, this time on a much more positive path. The University is now working with German company to make its mark in the technology world. The pair are working together to transform the University’s business intelligence (BI) model over the next three years, to create a more efficient University based on data sets and intelligence.

“Our relationship has changed with SAP over the last few years and we do feel more positive with our interaction today,” said Andrew McFarlane, Academic Researcher at The University of Edinburgh, who spoke to CBR. “We have a new account manager and he has been trying to leverage the value of SAP products and keep us up to date with what the latest developments are and how there is value to be had by engaging with SAP point of value.”

Transforming BI with SAP and the University of Edinburgh

Andrew McFarlane, The University of Edinburgh

In the last two years, The University has been working with Blake Goddard, Analytics Account Manager for Financial Services and Higher Education at SAP, to manage the systems and create a productive relationship. Unlike the first time round, Goddard has assisted the University with leveraging SAP products for the University. Additionally, he has carried out training sessions with high board members of the institution to better achieve the aims and objectives.

For the University, having successful BI will bring good data to staff at the University and help inform better decisions over student information or workers. Things such as calculating how long a professor teaches in a different school can be shown with good BI. This information will then enable the university to calculate a fee to charge that school, but if the data is not available then the action is not possible.

McFarlane said: “There are three things everyone wants to do: save time, save money or make money. What BI should do is help you do one or all of those things. The university is an enterprise that wants to do those things as well. Staff at the university required good data, if you don’t trust the data then that could be a problem bringing financial implications. We are moving to a culture of more evidence based decision making we need proper business intelligence to make business decisions.”

For students, it is about having the confidence that the University can help them succeed more than any other because of its BI and data systems. Student status’ can be tracked, so if there is a helping hand needed the data can alert staff to attend to that student. McFarlane noted that it is not about being competitive in gaining students, but about competitiveness in the digital economy.

“It’s really not all about students, but being competitive in the digital economy. We want to ensure that when people know they come to the University we have the technology and information to help them succeed, whether they are teachers or students.” McFarlane said. “The University has got to take part in the digital economy and if it wants students to come to it and researchers to come to it, then it needs state of the art technology but also the data that underpins those technologies to be right as well.”

Transforming BI with SAP and the University of Edinburgh

Data sets must become un-fragmented to have positive BI.

Successful BI can create a more efficient University, by giving the institution the ability to make better decisions based on data sets and intelligence.  McFarlane explained that the purpose of transforming its BI capability is to enable the institution to make better decisions and better the University’s outcomes. However, the entire transformation relies on data systems and if they do not exist no transformation can be achieved.

“Building up good business intelligence capacity will enable the University to become efficient, successful and achieve strategic goals such as more research staff or students. Good business intelligence gives the University the data to make good decisions and if you don’t have good data then can you make good decisions? No you can’t.”

The University hopes to achieve its transformation through various programmes of work, carried out to change how the University does BI. One of the first steps is to ensure the university replaces fragmented systems that do not communicate with one another. Examples of replacement systems include an ERP, software for core systems combining HR, payroll and finance all in one. With this, it will allow the University to carry out operational reporting much more easily because it allows staff to manage all the important data in one place.

“To take our place in the digital market place we have to transform the way we do BI. We have to ensure the underpinning systems and data that enable us to make the right decisions. Rather than having fragmented systems that don’t talk to each other, introducing an ERP lets you do operational reporting on the back of data and is a useful thing to have to manage data.”

Secondly is to set up an enterprise data warehouse. This will allow elements that cannot be placed in an ERP to still be brought into the combined system, such as student records. The data warehouse will be a separate strand, but still joined to the ERP system so that data is still together and trustworthy.

Other areas the University of Edinburgh is tapping into
How the rest of the User Group Conference unfolded
What other Universitites are doing in the tech world

Within the three year transformation, Edinburgh University will work alongside SAP to achieve effective BI to boost the University’s status. McFarlane said that the outcome for the University’s partnership with SAP is to provide an institution that has great data and great systems, which is reliable.

“Whatever the activity is, we want it to be supported by great data and great systems,” McFarlane said. “Data people can rely on for whatever business decision they have to make. Whether it is to help with a HR issue or determine whether students need an intervention, extra support or extra finance. The transformation is all about providing that quality information for all the business processes the university has.”

Another factor that the University must consider when implementing the transformation is GDPR implementation. So overcome such a significant hurdle, The University of Edinburgh is taking cautious steps when transforming the BI structure. A committee has been set up to look at the impact of GDPR on the University’s IT systems and ensure that all regulations are abided by.

McFarlane said: “We are thinking through implications of GDPR very seriously. With the committee, we need to help them understand what data they will be showing in their reports and what they shouldn’t. Within the committee a policy pack has been created, which outlines different measures that could be taken against unregulated data.”

Edinburgh University’s transformation is expected to happen over the next three years, aiming to be competitive in the digital economy and thriving in the University billboards.